Behind the line
At approximately 2:30 PM on July 14, 2015 an abandoned building on Fulton St. And Tompkins Ave. suddenly collapsed. I heard about the event around 3:15 through my Twitter feed where I follow a number of New York City alerters. @NYCityAlerts was the first to report the collapse I believe. At the time, it was pouring rain and I had little intention to venture outside. But once I tuned my radio scanner to the Brooklyn Fire Dispatch and heard of the magnitude and the close proximity to my location, I quickly grabbed my camera bag and headed out.
I arrived at the scene around 4 and hastily equipped my camera and my NPPA Membership lanyard. Since my card isn't a photo ID, I also tuck my drivers license in for added identification. It should be noted that the NPPA card I have isn't a full blown NYC press pass. It basically identifies me as a legitimate, independent photographer and doesn't 'actually' provide many benefits. The main benefit in my opinion, is that I look less like some guy with expensive equipment and more like a professional.
After photographing around the police barricade for a bit, a well dressed gentleman quickly made his way over to where I was standing and said to me, "Do you have a reporter on the other side?" At first I wasn't sure if he was talking to me, so I paused for a minute and noticed he was looking me straight in the eye. I replied with, "sorry, say again," to which he repeated himself and followed up with "....there's going to be a media briefing in 5 minutes." Thinking to myself that this guy must think I'm with a news agency, I sheepishly replied with a simple, "no..." To that he says, "follow me," lifts up the police tape and we make our way through police and firefighters to the media area. On our way an officer tried to stop us and the guy simply said, "he's with me." I flashed my wimpy 'press pass' and we continued on.
At this point I was shaking in my shoes, like I was doing something wrong. I felt like an undercover spy who successfully breached enemy lines. Except this wasn't my intention at all. I just wanted to photograph the firefighters doing their jobs.
The media section was like having a front row seat. We had a clear view of the collapse as well as the many personnel working at the scene. I found myself surrounded by cameras and anchors from nearly every media outlet in New York City. I started to think to myself what I would do if anyone realized I'm not a reporter. What if someone asks me what agency I'm with? Luckily for me no one did.
Less then 5 minutes after I arrived at the media area, the Fire Chief made his way over to give his brief. That's when the orderly crowd of cameramen and anchors turned into a bonafide mosh pit.
And I was embarrassingly unprepared. I still had my 70-200 lens attached and I realized I wasn't going to get any photos of the Chief. So in the midst this media frenzy, I'm scrambling to change my lens to a 24-70 so I can get a wide enough shot of the Fire Chief as well as the collapsed structure behind him.
I managed to equip the proper lens in time to push myself into the crowd and snap a few photos. Unfortunately for me I couldn't hear a single word the Chief was saying. To be perfectly honest, I was really surprised at how soft this man was speaking but how well the reporters microphones were likely picking him up.
In all, it was a remarkably unique experience I never thought I'd be a part of. Having the chance to be that close to the action gave me the opportunity to capture journalistic photos of the scene I'd otherwise have missed. It was also thrilling to be a part of the media frenzy for a moment. I may have to investigate obtaining my own official NYC press pass in the future.